Henry Raab was 10 days away from graduation, photographed for the yearbook and done with his exams when the University of Maryland informed him he would not get his medical degree. "Seek psychiatric treatment," the dean's letter told him, and then he "might", be allowed to repeat his senior year.
That was in 1954. Now Raab, at 50, has spent half his life fighting for the degree he says he earned but was denied because of alleged mental problems.
A former university psychiatrist who examined Raab back then and opposed his dismissal from the School of Medicine says that, psychiatrically, there was nothing wrong with Raab at all.
Raab, an Austrian immigrant who came to Baltimore in 1939, says he thinks he knows what cost him his degree - a foreign accent, ragged clothes and a tendency to challenge his professors' views.
After nearly a quarter century of trying to get back into the University of Maryland or to transfer to another school, he has filed suit against the university in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. Seeking a court order to obtain his degree, Raab has set down the reasons he thinks it was denied in the first place.
Raab, who put himself through school on grants, loans and money earned driving a taxi, said one reason was his transgression against the university's "dress and apparel code" when he wore sandals to a final exam. Another was his failure "to show proper respect for a cadaver" when he did not wear a necktie on a warm spring day while dissecting a dead body as part of his medical studies.
Then there ws the "Strike It Rich" incident. Raab said he appeared on the nationally televised quiz show where he allegedly degraded the school's public image. He won $500 and said on television that he'd use it to help pay for his medical education.
The university, in its legal reply to Raab's lawsuit, asserted that he was dismissed in 1954 "for exhibiting symptoms of mental illness which reflected directly upon his ability to practice medicine." None of the "symptoms" are specified.
However, Dr. Maurice Greenhill, the former faculty psychiatrist who opposed his dismissal, recently said "psychiatrically, there was never any reason to drop him. There are just some teachers who didn't take to him."
Raab agrees and he believes that it was problems like those described in his lawsuit that culminated in the faculty decision to place him on probation for his senior year, refer him to the school's psychiatric department and, ultimately dismiss him days before graduation in 1954.
Disagree vehemently with the faculty decision but desperate to obtain his degree, Raab said he received some psychotherapy the next year from another psychiatrist who now asserts that he couldn't find any evidence of a psychiatric disorder either.
[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] to retake his senior year. He was tossed out again in March, 1956 - this time by a new dean but for the same alleged "psychiatric condition."
When he protested to the dean, Dr. William S. Stone, Raab said he was told that the faculty would "honestly consider" his reinstatement if he could convince certain members that his "mental illness" had been cured.
Raab said when he asked to see his student file, which he was told contained the doctors' reports of his mental illness, Stone told him no, the reports were property of the university.
When he told Stone he saw no recourse but to sue, the dean, according to Raab, told him: "If you choose to institute a law suit, you will not only lose your case, but . . . you will find that not only Maryland, but all other medical schools, will not even consider your application."
Stone, 76 and retired, said from his North Carolina home that he doesn't recall Raab or "any such incidents."
But Raab's lawsuit includes copies of a 1956 dismissal letter with Stone's signature and two other letters with the former dean's signature notifying Raab that his subsequent applications had been turned down.
Raab's attorney, William H. Zinman, argued in legal documents that the young medical student relied on Stone's comments and reapplied four times to the university between 1959 and 1976. Each time, he was rejected. Raab said he has attempted to transfer to about 15 other schools and to get work in the medical field. But the university's refusal to grant the degree and its sending of records and reports to other schools and prospective employers caused failure each time, according to the lawsuit.
In 1974, Raab filed suit in state court, but it was thrown out when a judge ruled that he had delayed too many years before taking legal action.
Still clinging to his dream, Raab is making one final attempt to get his degree.
He now sells real estate and insurance from his New York City apartment. From a small Baltimore office, its shelves bulging with medical journals, its walls hung with maxims like "A man is never beaten until he gives up," Raab also does research on medical malpractice cases.
He said he feels "like a walking dead man," alive and healthy but cut off from his life's ambition.
"Somewhere in this country there must be justice," Raab said fervently. "It's hard to find, but some day the facts will come out."
The university, in its legal replies, argued that neither the 1954 nor 1956 dismissal violated Raab's due process rights, as he has alleged. Besides, the lawyers argued, his delay in taking legal action "has made it impossible to determine the merits" of his case, and the suit should be thrown out.
Psychiatrist Greenhill, speaking from his office at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York City, said: "I've always considered that an injustice was done (in Raab's case.) It was a matter of social incongruity. There were practically no foreign students at the university. Here he was speaking English with a German accent. His manner was different. He might have been a little rebellious. Ten years later, he would have had no problems at all."
Greenhill said in his years as a medical educator, he has "never seen anything like it."
So Raab goes on with his medical studies at home - reading the latest journals and giving himself the national board tests that physicians take.
He knows that winning the medical degree would not make him a physician. "But it would allow me to try to get an internship . . . to work for a drug company, to do research or write," he said vehemently.
"I still think I'm capable of 20 years of good medical service to the community, if only the community wil have me."